James Mellor

The San Luis Obispo Fire Department will operate under a new chief as of Tuesday, Nov. 1.

John Callahan, a former deputy chief of the Los Angeles City Fire Department, will be sworn in during the next City Council meeting.

Callahan will bring over 32 years of experience to his new position. As the commander of operations at Los Angeles City Fire Department, he acted as commander of the Fire Suppression and Rescue Bureau and oversaw disaster preparedness. He has also been directly involved in numerous emergency situations including the Northridge Earthquake in 1994, the Los Angeles fire storms in 1993 and the Rodney King riots in 1992.

“He’s a seasoned professional who’s seen it all and could teach us some new things here,” said City Administrative Officer Ken Hampian, who appointed Callahan.

Hampian also commented on Callahan’s strong background in emergency response and extensive involvement in running a fire department as reasons for hiring him.

“He came out on top because of his extraordinary experience,” he said.

In seeing Hurricane Katrina’s devastating aftermath, San Luis Obispo has adopted the nation’s high priority of disaster preparation. Having someone as experienced as Callahan in that area will help with the community’s preparedness, Hampian added.

However, it doesn’t take an emergency situation for Callahan to interact with community. During his years as a chief in Los Angeles he formed a wellness program in partnership with Cal State Northridge’s kinesiology department. The program was designed to help older firefighters stay in shape and take care of their bodies. Callahan said he is looking forward to moving to San Luis Obispo and establishing a relationship with both the community and Cal Poly.

“It’s a great city, not because it’s a sleepy little town,” Callahan said. “It’s got the energy and enthusiasm of 19,000 students, plus the number that go to Cuesta, that energizes the town,” he said while stating his interest in purchasing season tickets for Cal Poly sporting events.

“I look forward to working with the firefighters who are there now. They’ve been doing an excellent job so far and I look forward to helping them,” Callahan said.

Callahan and his wife, Lynne, have been planning to move to San Luis Obispo for a while because of its surrounding beauty and close proximity to family.

“When the job became available I wasn’t looking for a job, but it was just too perfect,” he said.

Callahan will acquire the position from current Battalion Chief Tom Zeuler, who has been acting as chief since Wolfgang Knabe left the department in June.

After working as the fire chief for three years, Knabe said he decided to leave the department when he received an offer from the Fullerton Fire Department for “better pay and better benefits, which enabled me to be closer to my family.”

“I had a lot of anxiety (about leaving San Luis Obispo) because I love the community,” Knabe said. “But I had a financial commitment to my family.”

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